In this excerpt from the new volume The Witness of Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch — which Rowan Williams has called “a fitting tribute to one of the most independent and creative church leaders in our age” — editor William G. Rusch introduces the life and work of Bartholomew and describes the scope of the essays that follow.
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The word and the concept of witness is deeply embedded in Christian faith and life. Even a superficial reading of the Scriptures discloses that for Israel and the earliest Christian communities the witness to what God had done and disclosed in history was critical. In the Christian unfolding of this story, the community of the Church can be seen as a narrative of the eyewitnesses and then witnesses to the gospel of the Father’s love manifested by Christ and his resurrection, and shared by the Spirit. Christian witness to this activity of the Triune God has been seen as a hallmark of what it means to be a Christian in any age. It is worth noting that this witness has been described by the Greek word that can be rendered in English martyr. There have been occasions over the centuries when this Christian witness has indeed been costly.
In the pages that follow, the reader will encounter a collection of essays that portrays the witness, and especially the ecumenical witness, of one of the outstanding Christian leaders of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch. This volume appears on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of Bartholomew’s enthronement as Ecumenical Patriarch. The goal of this enterprise of some eight ecumenical theologians is to offer an insightful evaluation of the activities of the Patriarch after twenty years. All the chapters seek to provide a helpful picture that avoids flattery on the one hand and unfair criticism on the other.
Bartholomew I (born Demetrios Archontonis) was born on 29 February 1940, on the island of Imvros, Turkey. In the 1960s he attended the Patriarchal School at Halki, the University of Munich, the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland, and the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Gregorian University in Rome. From the last of these institutions he received a doctorate in canon law. Also during this period he was ordained a deacon and took the monastic name of Bartholomew.
In 1969 Bartholomew was ordained to the priesthood; in 1973 he was elected Metropolitan of Philadelphia. Some seventeen years later he was elected Metropolitan of Chalcedon, a most senior rank among the bishops of Constantinople. During the 1970s and 1980s Bartholomew was active in a number of ecumenical roles, including attendance at assemblies of the World Council of Churches and work of the Commission on Faith and Order of the Council. In October of 1991 Bartholomew was elected Ecumenical Patriarch, and on 2 November 1991 he was enthroned as His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Often in Western circles Orthodox Christians have been perceived as locked into the past, inflexible in their theological positions, indifferent to the social concerns of the modern world, and rigid in their requirements for Christian unity. In the last twenty years, as these essays demonstrate, Bartholomew has destroyed this caricature. The Bartholomew who emerges in these pages is a spokesperson for Orthodoxy, totally faithful to his tradition, and also a deeply faithful Christian aware of the context of the present world and its environment, committed to a broad vision of ecumenism, and a theologian open to the legitimate diversity of the Christian faith in the twenty-first century.
Each of these essays in its own way casts light on Bartholomew’s person and contributions to individual areas. From these explorations emerges a portrait of a Christian, a church leader, an ecumenist, and a pastor whose presence in the contemporary world we should be grateful for and take heed of — whether we be Orthodox or not.
Table of Contents
William G. Rusch
The Ecumenical Patriarch in a European Context
Anna Marie Aagaard
Bartholomew as a Leader in the Orthodox Church
Peter C. Bouteneff
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Vision of the Ecumenical Movement and the World Council of Churches
Faith at the Margins: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as Bridge Builder
Dale T. Irvin
Patriarch Bartholomew as a Leader in Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue
Ronald G. Roberson, CSP
Orthodox and Reformed in Dialogue: The Agreed Statement on the Holy Trinity
Joseph D. Small
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: A Committed Ecumenist
Click to order The Witness of Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch, edited by William G. Rusch.